The first-home-buyer circus

Last updated 10:36 08/04/2012

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OPINION: My wife and I are in the market to buy our first home. In the mobius strip of life this places us in competition with people of a similar age as well as downsizers and property investors, which hardly seems fair.

We've stopped looking several times after becoming disenchanted with the market or our own financial security (mostly my fault), but the lure of a new Property Press every Wednesday never fails to pull us back into the routine of open homes, ums, ahhs and number crunching.

As a first home-buyer you quickly learn you can't have everything and some things, such as internal garaging or a flat space for backyard cricket, are well beyond your grasp. Instead, you find yourself entering houses yellowed and reeking from past occupants and wondering if the smoking hastened their departure for a better place (Heaven rather than Hataitai).

I wish I'd written a column about the day we first started looking. I'd be able to refer back to it now and say with certainty how long we've been searching and what my expectations were in those boyish days.

How many Sundays have we spent peering beneath houses in search of insulation, inspecting tumbledown garden sheds, leaping over disconcerting puddles on footpaths and strange mounds in the carpet with the voice of Project Runway's Tim Gunn ("Make it work") ringing in our heads?

Long before I bought a ticket to the first-home-buyer circus, I wrote a short story about a couple whose differences became so apparent during the search for a house that they stopped talking to each other and only ever saw each other at open homes.

While Marisa and I are still on talking terms, the hunt has illuminated a few differences between us. Where I see quirks and character, she sees hassle and risk. Where she sees modern and classy, I see cold and soulless. Where I see a decent-sized office for me to write, she sees a guest bedroom with a desk in the corner.

The hunt has been time consuming and demoralising but there is something fantastic about being allowed inside the houses of strangers to open wardrobes, flick light switches and cast aspersions on their choice of curtains.

Every time I pass a bookshelf, I survey the titles and make judgments about the owner. Sadly, books by New Zealand authors are all too rare and I've never seen a copy of A Man Melting in my search (although based on the sales figures and the number of households in Wellington the probability of finding my book in a given home is about 0.4 per cent).

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Every so often I come across a Your Weekend on a coffee table or in a magazine rack, but I have resisted the urge to turn to the back page to see if someone has given me a moustache or devil horns.

Eventually a first-home buyer will hit that sweet spot where your expectations have been sufficiently lowered and the amount you're prepared to pay has been stretched to its limit. Then it's time for the fun to really begin. Or as I call it, the "Not So Tender Process".

- The Dominion Post

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